A Mortal Song
Another World Press
If you’re even slightly familiar with young adult novels, you know that one of the more popular tropes found is “The Hero is The Chosen One.” With A Mortal Song, Megan Crewe flips this trope on its head and dropkicks it.
It doesn’t start out that way. At first, this book seems like your standard YA novel—even a bit more obnoxious. I love YA, and tropes don’t bother me when they’re handled well, but A Mortal Song begins with Sora, princess of the kami spirit people and heir to the kingdom of Mount Fuji, flouncing around and thinking about how great she is. It’s immediately grating, and since I went into this book not knowing about its premise, I assumed this wasn’t intentional. I was mistaken. Crewe uses this image of Sora as the most powerful of all the kami to uppercut both Sora and the reader with the realization that Sora isn’t kami at all. She’s completely human; the kami king and queen traded their real daughter for Sora at birth, to keep the true kami heir safe from harm.
When Mount Fuji is attacked by an army of ghosts, Sora and her dreamy bodyguard, Takeo, go in search of a powerful but obtuse sage to hear of a prophecy. The truth of Sora’s birth comes to light and their mission to save Mount Fuji and Sora’s foster parents rests on their ability to find and train the real kami princess, who’s been living as a human since the day she was born.
Faced with increasingly irrefutable evidence that her entire life was a lie, Sora becomes more relatable, and thus more likeable, as the story progresses. She certainly handles the circumstances with far more aplomb than I would have; whenever it’s suggested that she step away from the conflict and stop endangering herself, Sora insists on helping, regardless of how betrayed she feels. I was indignant and bitter on her behalf, cruelly hoping she’d leave the lying kami to their fates. But of course, being a true hero, however human, Sora doesn’t do that. She perseveres, doing everything she can to help the kami and stop the Yakuza gangster ghost terrorizing Mount Fuji. (Yakuza Gangster Ghost is the name of my new rock band.)
Vague-ish Subplot Spoilers
My only real bone to pick with the book is how the romance is handled. There’s an itty bitty baby love triangle that fizzles out almost as soon as it begins. In the opening pages of the novel, Sora discloses to the reader her longstanding crush on Takeo, and there are obvious hints that her feelings are returned, but once the Sora-is-human twist is revealed and she meets some new people, Sora begins having weird pants feelings for a human boy, Keiji. I don’t feel like Crewe handled this aspect particularly well. Keiji is immediately head over heels for Sora, making comments about how he’ll never leave her side and she’s the most extraordinary person he’s ever met within about twelve hours of meeting her. While their romance did grow on me, the beginning of it put me off. Additionally, I wasn’t a fan of how quickly the Takeo romance was dropped. Sora tells him she wants to stay friends, and he accepts it, but the reader is led to believe up to that point that Takeo has genuine feelings for her. The emotional ramifications of this rejection for Takeo are never explored, and it feels like a missed opportunity.
Overall, A Mortal Song is a solid effort from well-established author Megan Crewe. The setting and cast of entirely Japanese characters are a refreshing and much-needed addition to young adult literature, and the exploration of kami lore and Japanese mythology in general is both interesting and innovative. The prose is neat and accessible; this isn’t a book you’ll have to trudge through. A Mortal Song is an easy, enjoyable read for anyone looking for something new in the YA genre.